Brie Larson on 'Captain Marvel' and Starring in Marvel's 'Big Feminist Action Movie' (Set Visit)
By John Boone
Courtesy of Marvel Studios
"Are you hiding the suit from us?" I ask Brie Larson.
"Um." She barely hides a sheepish smile. "Kind of!"
It's May 3 -- the same week that Avengers: Infinity War became the No. 1 movie in the world -- and Larson's superhero alter-ego, Carol Danvers, better known as Captain Marvel, has only been teased to the public by way of a cryptic pager. Hence why, at this moment, she is concealing her star-spangled supersuit underneath a tarp-like robe on the Sony Studios set of Captain Marvel, uncertain whether this group of reporters has been given clearance to glimpse it in all its glory. (We have.) "It's only partially on," Larson chuckles as she unceremoniously unveils the sleek red and blue armor. "I took part of it off. I can't really sit in it."
"I was wearing the other suit -- the green suit -- and in here, it's like being in a casino," she says of the cavernous soundstage housing today's out-of-this-world set. "It's just dark and you lose track of time, and I was like, Oh my God, I've got to get out of here... Is it still light out? And I opened that big door and I stumbled out and I was, like, blinking, trying to adjust to the light. And Jim Carrey drove by on a golf cart and looked at me and I looked at him and we just stared at each other as he drove by and I was like, "Huh?"
Such is Larson's new normal while filming the '90s-set origin story, which sees Carol Danvers pitted between warring alien races -- the Kree "noble warrior heroes" and the shape-shifting Skrulls -- as she searches for answers about her past with the help of Samuel L. Jackson's eye patch-less Nick Fury. Between setups, Larson sits down to discuss what makes Captain Marvel "revolutionary," not feeling pressure about fronting the MCU's first female-fronted film and staying out of the comments.
People were certainly surprised by it, at least at first.
Oh, tell me more!
You are on social media! You didn't see any of that?
I do not look at that stuff, man. I mean, sometimes I know when the paparazzi are on set and I'm like, Cool, I'm not going on social media for a couple of days. But if I even see a touch of it-- I don't go on. It's not helpful, either way. I have a firm rule with myself with social media. I don't believe the good, I don't believe the bad.
You filmed [Avengers 4] with the Russo Brothers prior to this. How has your character changed from that to this origin story?
Changed? I...don't…think I can answer that. [Laughs.] I think that would be way too complicated to get into.
This is obviously a huge moment for the MCU, because it's their first female-led superhero film. What does that mean to you to get a part of that moment, and are you nervous for that pressure?
I don't feel nervous, mostly because I've found a way to just keep my head down. I also find the character so inspiring that whenever I feel sort of, like, nervous and scared, I feel like I can turn to her and I'm like, No! I got this. And that feels really awesome. I feel like I have the same awe over her that a lot of her fans do. So, hopefully that sort of bleeds through into this.
But I'm also like, We don't know what's gonna happen, right? We don't know how the movie's going to be or how the movie will be received. It's not worth it to build it up into anything other than this is the same thing that I've always been doing. And there are things about her that I think are revolutionary and I, along with Marvel and [directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden] and everybody on this crew, really want to make sure that that stuff gets out there. To me, that's all that it is, you know? I just like the process. My favorite part is the making. And then the rest of it isn't really up to me. It feels like it just kind of goes out there and I just gotta ride the wave. Or not! [Laughs.]
We've heard that this has been a really collaborative process. Did you bring any ideas to that table that you really wanted to see in the story? Or ideas that you have been holding close to your heart?
The cool thing about this script is that it was written by women. I didn't realize how vital that is until I read it for the first time and realized there are little moments that I went, Oh, those have always been, like, snags and things that I've had to fight for. Like, male characters in this script said, you know, "We gotta get that woman!" Which is not in the script, I'm using that as a hypothetical. But if a man had wrote it, generally I'd see, "We've gotta get that girl!" They're just slight things, and I realized it changed the way I viewed myself. I was like, Oh my God. I'm a woman! You don't realize it, that you're sort of slowly conditioned in these ways...I've struggled my whole life -- in particular because I'm an actor -- of always being in relation to something or somebody else, always through a lens, through somebody else's lens. And the beauty of this is that there's been so many women involved in the making of it that I don't feel like I've had to fight as much, because I felt understood from the beginning.
That's just a wonderful thing that Marvel understood innately. And I think that they knew that before, with going in even to Black Panther, that if you're going to tell this story, you've got to make sure that it's really embedded in everything. It's not good enough to just make it be me. It has to be in the script. It has to be in the direction. It has to be in the wardrobe. It has to be in every part of it, that it speaks to us, that finally we're allowed to see our personal hidden secret language. I'm sure there are movies for you guys as dudes, that you're like, Whoa! That's so true to my experience. Just know, we've never had that.
Did anyone inspire you while you were in preparation for this role?
Oh gosh, yeah. I'd say one of the biggest inspirations was going to Nellis Air Force Base and getting to talk with the female fighter pilots there. They're just the coolest -- the coolest -- and just this great combination of like really confident, but super humble. Not boastful. You feel the power being with them, and they're hyper-intelligent and just badasses. They became a huge piece of when I went, Oh, this is Carol. The things that I thought were just innately Carol, a huge piece of it is her background in the Air Force.
Can you talk about how the role came to you in the first place, and what attracted you to it?
Really what it came down to is I had a meeting with Marvel and what we discussed is they wanted to make a big feminist movie. And I remember going home being like, S**t, am I gonna do this? It's kind of everything that I've wanted. I don't do movies based upon any hidden agenda other than I just want more representation and I want to do what I can to bring more representation and to see more colors of what [life is] like. Like, I know my limitations. I know that I'm just one white girl. I'm just trying to do as much as I can within that, within the framework of my body.
And as I've grown, I've noticed these movies and the Marvel movies in particular, they have so much meaning in them. They mean so much. You can have a great time and just enjoy it for having a great time, but you can also be left with some really deep philosophical questions and that combo is really powerful. So, the idea that we could make something that was thought-provoking and entertaining, that was going to be seen all over the world is like, it's a crazy one to have to think about and think about your participation in and think about what that will do to your life and to your family and to your friends. And I don't know still how it'll change it. But the opportunity came and I feel like I got to take the call in the same way she had to take the call, you know?
That being said, young girls are going to see this film. Do you feel a sense of responsibility in how you're portraying this iconic character? And because you're so active on social media, in how you're presenting yourself to the world?
I don't think so... It's really important to me that I stay a person, and that means I’m going to make mistakes. One thing about social media that I’ve struggled with is the idea of making a mistake and then it being, like, You're canceled and that's it. And some people need to be canceled! But some people actually maybe said something and want to learn from it. So, I'm hoping that social media can become more of what public discourse used to be, which was having conversations and getting to something together.
I don't know. I don't know what to say to that! It definitely is scary to think of people paying attention to me. [Laughs.] And I'm not going to act super-strong when I've been kind of freaking out seeing how quickly my numbers on Instagram have been going up since Infinity War came out. I've been sort of like, Oh, God. I did not think about that. Like, Why are people paying attention to me? Because I really just feel the same. I do feel like just a person. So, it's a weird feeling when it seems like people on the outside view you differently, when I still feel the same. So, my hope is to continue to be clever about this and to continue to show myself and to learn. I just want to learn, and I hope others on social media will teach me.
Can you talk about your physical transformation for this film? So often, especially in the '80s and some '90s films, you had these female heroes who were still very thin and kind of frail. I heard you have really been working out and packing on the muscles. Can you talk about that experience and why that was so important to you?
A lot of the training first came from the fact that I knew I was doing an action movie and I was going to have to do stunts and I didn't know what that was, but I knew that a movie like this was gonna feel like a triathlon and I wanted to be ready for it. I wanted to be as prepared as possible, so I wasn't fighting being fatigued or my body hurting, that I was as resilient as I could possibly be. And also a huge part of her is her strength, so I knew that if I could go through that experience, I would get closer to her. I would understand. You can get to a point where you're just sort of being, even just you sitting there can feel really strong, rather than, like, acting strong. I don't know what that means. I didn't know what strength was. I was truly an introvert with asthma before this film, so I had a lot of work to do.
And I just started to fall in love with it. I started to fall in love with the way my body was changing and transforming, and it was the first time where I felt like I was making my body work for me. I think in the past I was more interested in my body never being part of a conversation. To me, it felt like objectification and I just wanted to be a brain, so I've only cared about, like, reading books and understanding words and anything that involved my body, it made me itchy. But this was an opportunity for me to take it back and make my body mine. It wasn't until we started filming and I started doing this stunts -- I started doing crazy stunts -- that people were like, "Oh, by the way, no one does this." No one really wanted to tell me that that was the case because they were like, I don't know why she's doing this, but it's cool! Like, Whatever, just let her to do it! Really, it was ignorance more than anything else.
But now I've found it really empowering and and I do want to say that I have two amazing stunt doubles in this, Renee Moneymaker and Joanna Bennett, who were super helpful and are doing a lot of this...But I did do a lot of it and I will continue to do a lot of it. I think watching this movie and knowing that I put in nine months of real hard work -- three months of [which] were, like, four and a half hours of training a day, it was like I was training for a marathon -- I think knowing that, it would mean so much more to me knowing that there was that type of dedication put into it, that it's not just CGI. It's not girls are strong with CGI, it's girls are strong.
Sam [Jackson] said that you're the pushup champ now.
Yeah, I can do pushups! I can do pull-ups. I can hip thrust 400 pounds.
I don't even know what that means!
[Laughs.] I didn't even know what it meant nine months ago, you know?
You were part of the Marvel class photo for their 10th anniversary. What did it feel like to go in there and see that you're part of this big family?
Emotional. It's a weird time to enter this. I'm entering it at the 10-year point. I'm entering at this pivotal time, where everybody's coming together so it's a very surreal experience. And this is a family and you feel it. I could feel it that day. You can feel the history, you can feel the love, you can feel how much time these people have spent together. I was really grateful that they were so generous and so excited about me joining it and so open to answering my questions. I brought a book with me and had them all sign it by giving me superhero advice. And so I have all of those people from that day. All of us were doing it, we all had books.
What was some of the advice? Who gave the best advice?
I mean, most of them are just really practical, like, Don't forget to drink water in the morning! And a lot of them were just like, You don't need my advice, which I think is really sweet too.
You said earlier that there are aspects of Captain Marvel that you found to be revolutionary. What specifically about her makes her revolutionary?
I'm trying to think of what I can say about that that's not going to get me in trouble. I love that she's unapologetic. I love that she's not apologizing for her strength, first as a human in the Air Force, that she's never trying to shrink herself because of who she is. She can't even be somebody else if she wanted to. She can't. She can't be contained, and I think that is such a beautiful thing.
As I said earlier, my whole life, I wanted to know what it would be like to not see myself through other people's eyes but just through me alone. And I never knew what that meant, like, Do I need to like go live in the woods alone? What do I do?! And now I'm learning that actually it is all of us together that make life and make the experience. But the fact that she is just herself and cannot be contained is pretty awesome. It means that she's, like, wild! That's part of what I love.
Captain Marvel arrives in theaters on March 8, 2019.